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Akiba's Trip: Undead & Undressed

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
Genre: RPG/Action
Publisher: XSEED Games
Developer: Acquire
Release Date: Nov. 25, 2014 (US), Feb. 6, 2015 (EU)


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PS4 Review - 'Akiba's Trip: Undead & Undressed'

by Dustin Chadwell on May 15, 2015 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Akiba's Trip: Undead & Undressed takes players on an eclectic trip through Tokyo’s “Electric Town” electronics district in which they will battle vampire-like foes in over-the-top, highly stylized role-playing action.

Akiba's Trip: Undead & Undressed certainly isn't going to appeal to everyone. It's a strange, often perverse, action-adventure game where you fight vampires called Synthisters by hitting them repeatedly and stripping away articles of clothing to expose them to the sun. You'll spend a good portion of the game in combat, and it's just as weird as it sounds. However, I found the game oddly compelling and even a little charming, and that honestly took me by surprise. Akiba's Trip: Undead & Undressed has its faults, but underneath some of its seedier elements is a fun, character-driven adventure that does a somewhat solid job of representing the "otaku" life style of Japanese fanboys and fangirls.

I have never traveled there, but the city of Akihabara is well known to most diehard anime, manga and video game fans. It's been referenced numerous times across multimedia platforms, and it has the reputation of being an otaku cultural center. You might be familiar with a few of its more famous shops, like video game superstore Super Potato. If you're not familiar with Super Potato, then I'd suggest googling it, if for no other reason than to see a throne built from Famicom carts.

The "Akiba" portion of Akiba's Trip is short for Akihabara, and the game takes place entirely within the confines of this city. While the game is clearly fantasy, the city layout seems to accurately represent the real-world location. It's easy enough to bring up a number of images to correspond to the areas you'll see in-game, and I have to commend the efforts of developer Acquire in bringing the famed city to life. Outside of games like Yakuza and The World Ends With You, I haven't seen a modern Japanese city rendered in such accurate detail.

That stunning level of accuracy aside, what the heck is Akiba's Trip about? The title starts by going on about the use of the Internet and social media, and how it can cause fantastical rumors to grow and take foot in the hearts and minds of today's youth. I'm not sure how much this applies to teens and young adults in North America, but according to the narrative of Akiba's Trip, it's commonplace in this fictional version of Japan. The plot revolves around one such rumor, which talks of energy-stealing vampires that can walk freely during the daytime (if they're fully clothed). These vampires, of course, are the aforementioned Synthisters.

When the game begins, you're a young man who signed a job contract before reading it and is being subjected to tests against his will. You learn you've been turned into a Synthister, and with some help, you escape your captors and return to the safety of your friends. These friends, who have nicknamed themselves the Akiba Freedom Fighters, there are comprised of an eclectic assortment of somewhat stereotypical youth who are obsessed with anime, manga, video games, and the opposite/same sex. It's basically a group of teenagers who have taken it upon themselves to patrol the city streets.

Akiba's Trip's sense of humor is pretty hit-and-miss throughout, but the localization effort is pretty good. It's a very dialogue-heavy game, which can bog things down, but most of that dialogue is pretty well written. The cast members are defined by their personality quirks, and the large supporting cast is akin to the Persona series by Atlus. It doesn't delve into dark, depressing undertones, but it's easy to draw comparisons between your childhood friend Touko Sagisaka and Persona 4's Chie Satonaka.

While it might be easy to look at Akiba's Trip as just another quirky Japanese RPG, that's not entirely accurate. It has more in common with developer Acquire's Way of the Samurai series, or if you need a more popular comparison point, Sega's Yakuza franchise. When you have control of your character, you can explore the streets of Akiba, visit a variety of shops, talk to various NPCs, and hunt down opponents. City sections are walled off by loading screens, which can be tedious, but you can also fast-travel to previously explored areas of the city. Beyond optional side-quests, there aren't  a lot of reasons to explore, and the city areas are pretty small. The locations offer a lot of variety, and the number of NPCs within each area make the world feel somewhat organic.

As I mentioned earlier, the combat in Akiba's Trip comprises a significant portion of the gameplay. You'll get into battles with Synthisters in one of two ways: via story and side-quests or by using your camera to locate and harass random Synthisters. Either way, combat plays out in the same way. Your character can attack via three face buttons on the controller, with each button corresponding to high, mid, or low attacks. You'll be equipped with a weapon, like a baseball bat, keyboard, police baton, umbrella, or some other weird object.

The goal in combat is to strip your opponent of most of their clothing, which is done by attacking an area of their body until their clothing has worn down enough to be ripped off. I cringe as I type that because it sounds just as bad as it looks when playing. It helps that Akiba's Trip doesn't go for ultra-realistic visuals, which would make this concept infinitely worse. Even with anime aesthetics, it can be difficult to get past this disturbing element. On the plus side, Akiba's Trip employs equal use of male and female enemies, but that equal opportunity aspect doesn't mean a thing when the main male character rips the blouse off a female enemy, who lets out a diminutive cry before running off or disappearing in a puff of purple smoke.

It also doesn't help that Akiba's Trip turns up that creep factor with the ability to chain together multiple disrobe attacks, which can sometimes culminate in the ability to strip an opponent's underwear. It doesn't show any naughty bits, but it's clearly meant for cheap titillation. It's also somewhat optional, thankfully, as you have to be deliberate in your combat approach to trigger the option of completely disrobing an opponent.

Another disappointing aspect to the combat — admittedly to a lesser degree — is that it's sort of boring. Most enemies don't put up much of a fight on the normal difficulty setting, even though they hit hard and can quickly whittle away your health bars. Given the opportunity to strip you of clothing and signal the game over/restart screen, they rarely do so. If your health gets too low, you can step back for a moment and "fix" your character clothing, allowing you to regain health at the cost of your current combo chain. The only time combat feels slightly harrowing is when you are surrounded, but beyond the forced story battles, it's easy enough to retreat when you're overwhelmed.

Considering how often you engage in combat, the fact that it's not remarkably fun or exciting is certainly a negative. The comparison to Way of the Samurai and Yakuza only highlights why the combat in Akiba's Trip suffers. With Way of the Samurai, battles feel deliberate and dangerous, forcing you to think through some encounters in a way that's never necessary with Akiba's Trip. In Yakuza, combat isn't necessarily tough, but it's remarkably fun with the extensive combo system and environmental attacks. Akiba's Trip lacks all of these elements, feeling instead like a glorified button-masher with an undesirable juvenile hook attached.

There's not much worth noting about the PS4 iteration in comparison to the PS3 and Vita versions. Visually, it looks pretty close to the PS3 version, but the frame rate is more stable than has been reported on PS3. I never encountered any significant technical hiccups or issues on the PS4, which is certainly a plus. Considering the PS4 version runs only $10 more than the Vita and PS3 versions, it's worth shelling out a few extra bucks for a more stable, current version of the game.

All in all, Akiba's Trip: Undead & Undressed is an uneven experience. The story elements are fun and lighthearted, and I enjoyed the various characters and the overall plot. I can't overstate how much I appreciate the attention to detail in bringing real-world Akihabara to life. The game utilizes some interesting upgrade systems, eschewing a standard experience system in favor of one that utilizes gear and weapon drops from enemies, which can then be combined to make better items for your character and AI-controlled partner. However, the combat is a serious black mark against the entire package, not only because of its questionable fan-service trappings, but also because it's just not that fun.

If you can hunt down a demo or rental, giving it a chance isn't a waste of time. There are enough positives so it's worth a look, even if I doubt most will want to see the game through to completion. I'd love to see developer Acquire refocus its efforts into something more substantial, and I hopefully the lackluster combat here remains the exception, and not the rule, for future Acquire-developed titles.

Score: 6.5/10

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